Watercress is far more than just a garnish on the side of the plate, it’s a superfood!
We crave fresh, new greens in the spring, just-picked treasures that name their own season and make us feel good.
Asparagus season is one of our favorites, right along with fiddlehead and ramp seasons. But although it grows in various forms around the world, we tend not to think of watercress in the same way.
In modern times, watercress has been too often an afterthought garnish on the plate, or perhaps a layer in a fancy tea sandwich. But, historically, watercress has served as an important food and medicinal plant, even feeding armies.
Spring craving for greens
Native populations in cold climates around the world sought out green shoots of a wide variety of plants as soon as spring softened the earth. These green plants were much needed nutritionally after a long winter devoid of fresh vegetables.
Even now, when we could have greens of any kinds we desire all year long, we want those green shoots in spring, and not something that has traveled around the world!
Watercress has my nomination for the next superfood. Not only does it have incredible, unique flavor, but it packs more nutrients per gram than just about anything I could think of. It is a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, Vitamins C, E, and B-6, and folate.
It has long been used medicinally for treatment of just about everything from lung disorders and coughs, to scurvy and warts! At present, it is being studied for its possible prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease and several cancers.
In season now
You can buy watercress all year long, several varieties, and many people forage this spring vegetable. The season when it’s best runs from April through June. When you buy watercress, look for a nice dark green color, with healthy looking leaves. Take a whiff; it should smell peppery and fresh.
Once home, unwrap your bundle of cress and snip off just the tips of the stems. Rinse in cold water, shake, and place on a tea towel or paper towel.
If you are going to use the cress today, put it in a vase and let it sit on the counter. If you are carrying it over to another day, while still damp, place on the paper towel, roll it up, and put it in a large zip lock plastic bag. Do not seal it; you want some air circulation here.
Watercress is as versatile a green as any other. Add them raw to your smoothie, make a salad of this green all its own, or mix with other greens and some spring radishes. It is absolutely lovely as the primary green in a green goddess dressing, or minced really fine in a traditional vinaigrette, it gives a welcome boost of flavor. If you like a spicy pesto, cress makes a great base.
Yes, you can cook it too!
Have you thought of cooking watercress? Added at the last minute in a soup, it lends color and a peppery accent. Tossed in a stir-fry after you take it off the heat, it will wilt in seconds, adding interest, color, and nutrition.
Watercress loves eggs, and chopped up makes a lovely filling for an omelet.
The five-minute side dish
If you are looking for a quick side dish for dinner, nothing could be easier than a sauté of watercress, start to finish around five minutes. You can sauté the watercress by itself, or add other spring greens: asparagus, ramps, arugula (rocket) or even dandelion greens.
In this recipe, I’ve added the flavor of two fermented ingredients: miso and cream cheese. You can also use buttermilk in this, or coconut milk if you avoid dairy.
Of course, you can still invite your friends over and make dainty little tea sandwiches with watercress! Cut the crusts off from some sturdy bread, smear with a little lemon mayonnaise, mound with the watercress, top with very thin slices of radish, sprinkle with salt, and top with second slice of bread.
Watercress & Asparagus with Miso
10 oz. or so fresh asparagus spears
1 bunch of watercress, rinsed, trimmed
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. red miso
2 tsp. maple syrup
The prep: Trim tough ends of asparagus and chop into one-inch pieces.
Trim ends of watercress and wash thoroughly. Peel and mince garlic.
Blend together the softened cream cheese and the red miso, set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium high. Add the oil, and melt the butter. To this, add the garlic, and cook for a minute or so, until fragrant.
Add the asparagus to the pan and cook for about three minutes, or until the asparagus looses its hard bite. Add the cream cheese/miso mixture to the pan, along with a little water to thin. Swirl around for a minute or two, until the cheese has melted and no lumps appear.
Add the watercress, and cook for about a minute, or until the leaves have wilted.
Serve and garnish. If you like, you can top with something crunchy: some toasted seeds or nuts, or crispy little cubes of tempeh (yes, a third fermented food).
Dinner Pairings: This dish is perfect as a bed for roasted spring trout, a natural combination as fishing season is an April tradition in many areas. This is also lovely served with a little piece of grilled tofu or chicken, a simple protein because this packs a lot of flavor.
Dorothy Grover-Read is an innkeeper and caterer, food columnist, local food enthusiast, and blogger at The New Vintage Kitchen https://vintagekitchen.org
© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen